Racing: Course Confusion at the Brownie Points Burner Signals Ongoing Issues for Mountain Biking

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Words by Kath Bicknell | Images by Kath Bicknell

Stolen course markings upset the outcomes of the inaugural Brownie Points Burner in Taree. It’s not the first time this has happened and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last.

 

‘I’ve got po-ten-tial,’ says the lead character in New Zealand film, Boy, with a thick kiwi accent. ‘What’s po-ten-tial?’ This is a line that often comes into my head when something promises to be great, if only a few important elements fall into place.

The Brownie Points Burner held in the Kiwarrak Forest, Taree on Sunday had a lot of potential. The event incorporates the Taree Tip Trails, a singletrack network attracting consistently high praise.  And by using the Clarendon Farm Retreat as a base, riders can happily plan for the event as part of a relaxing weekend away with family and friends.

Not a bad spot to base yourself for a race! Rooms with a view. The Summer House highlights also included tennis, volley ball and a hot tub.

Not a bad spot to base yourself for a race! Rooms with a view. The Summer House highlights also included tennis, volley ball and a hot tub.

The scenic 50/80km format promised to be different to more established events. It included more climbing than your typical marathon for starters. A lot of people were attracted to it for that reason. The warm August weather in this location helps to kick off some fitness ready for a summer of shredding.

The stage was set for a challenging and rewarding day out. Balloons were placed just off the course if riders wanted prizes that rewarded a sense of fun over keeping your head down for the win.

But it takes more than a good course and some fresh ideas to run a great event. Velo Events had put a lot of time, energy and money into getting the show underway but with only 120 or so riders entering the event, this impacted their budget and manpower. Unfortunately, what promised to be a fun hit out at the end of winter fell short of the experience people were hoping for.

Course confusion

As riders made their way into the event centre from 11.00am, it became apparent that course markings had been stolen in not one but several locations. This had been identified the night before, but tampered with again before riders entered the start chute.

The effects of the stolen signs were compounded by things the events team could have done better as well. Some course markings were hard to spot while riding, and there weren’t as many marshals on the track as would have been ideal. Additional arrows remained on course from previous events creating further confusion still.

Jason English was quick to talk to the event crew about where course markings had gone missing.

Jason English was quick to talk to the event crew about where course markings had gone missing.

Jason English (Merida) was the first rider through the finish arch. ‘This is what you need to know,’ he said matter-of-factly as he sat down at the timing table pointing at the course map with tent peg.

How people react in such situations reveals a lot about their character. While some riders vented anger and frustration as they crossed the line, English’s first instinct was to calmly chat with the events team to ensure the safety of other riders still out there.

Standing in the warm sun on a late August day, it was hard not to think about that event that could have been, rather than the event that was. Riders trickled in throughout the day. Most revealed they’d seen other competitors multiple times out on the course before grouping together to navigate back to the event centre. A decision was made to award the podium, and prize money, based on a countback to an earlier checkpoint.

It never occured to Naomi Hanson to short cut the course and call it a day.

It never occured to Naomi Hanson to short cut the course and call it a day.

Naomi Hansen (Subaru-MarathonMTB.com) was awarded the women’s win. She was also the first rider to reach the final checkpoint. The Noosa vet would have beaten the entire Elite Men’s field had the event been an orienteering one instead. ‘Don’t [let] anybody tell you that a woman can’t find her way around,’ she joked, also quick to reflect on what the event offered in terms of location and the quality of the trails.

 

The bigger picture

The downsides of the Brownie Points Burner certainly signal to the myriad logistical issues involved in hosting a great race. While it would be easy to point fingers at Velo Events for what they could have done differently, there are a lot of other successful events out there that have developed in light of some serious teething issues as well. It’s the when things go wrong that it’s easier to recognise the comprehensive (and often quite tedious) management plans that keep the best events on track.

The near-sightedness of event vandalism also has us shaking our heads. This kind of activity doesn’t just sabotage a race, it clearly puts lives at risk. This has happened before in Taree ahead of a Singletrack Mind Series race last April. Something similar has happened before the Husky 100. We’ve also heard of vandals going so far as to unscrew arrows and point them in the wrong direction, with the intention of sending riders down dangerous descents.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the consequences of such actions. These extend far beyond simply ruining an event, or deterring riders from trails shared by other user groups.

It’s also disappointing to think of the impacts of event sabotage on local communities. An established, fun trail network, such as the Taree Tip Trails, brings keen riders to eat, sleep and drink in nearby townships. While these numbers swell for events, well-loved trails attract tourism throughout the entire year.

Regional areas of Australia are fast cottoning on to the benefits of mountain biking to their local economies but actions like removing arrows sends a financial boost like this one elsewhere. We hope that as the visibility mountain biking’s benefits continues to increase a few bitter people can lay their prejudices to rest.

Dylan Cooper led home a mock charge for the line.

Dylan Cooper led home a mock charge for the line.

Bigger and better

The Brownie Points Burner was created because organiser, and walking encyclopaedia of Australian mountain bike history, Hugh Flower, saw the marathon format as a great way of showcasing an exciting destination.

Given the attraction of the trails in Taree, the relaxing accommodation nearby, and the warm climate just before Spring, we really hope to see more events like this one develop into something great. Not only to fulfil their potential, but doing so means they become part of productive conversations that make mountain biking more accessible in other communities as well.

 

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